The other day he convened lots of lawmakers to discuss the matter. I always ask myself if the politicians who get invited to such meetings (and lawmakers are by definition politicians) come prepared. Do they do their homework? Do they read the relevant materials? Or do they come to the meeting, posture a bit for the media, and hope their presence and sagicity will be noted? Anyway, at the meeting Obama indicated that he's not about to draw down the number of American troops. So he's apparently not seeking a quick way out of the campaign. But what will he decide upon? We still don't know.
The Economist has an interesting column on the matter, which looks at the pending decision through the obvious filter of Vietnam.
To many, Vietnam proves the futility of Western powers using force in somebody
else’s country. The West’s record in colonial wars, and later interventions, is
hardly glorious. Yet there have been some successful counter-insurgency
campaigns, notably by the British in Malaya in the 1950s and by the Americans in
the Philippines a century ago. Even in Vietnam, many scholars argue, the
Americans belatedly got the knack for irregular warfare, blending political,
economic and military action. South Vietnam, they note, was largely pacified
after the 1968 Tet offensive; it succumbed not to the insurgents, but to the
regular armies of North Vietnam, after the war effort was starved of support by
Congress. America did not lose the fight; it lost the will to fight.
The single most important description of the war that the public can see at the moment (becasue someone leaked it) is General McChrystal's report from the end of August. On one level it's a joy to read: a calm, well-informed, thoughtful document, which offers an analysis and a way forward, without the perpetual shrill point-scoring which characterizes most of the political discussion. Beyond the rhetoric, however, it contains a clear statement about the fundamentals of the war.
It's a war for the hearts of the Muslims. They can be convinced to join the free world; or they can be convinced not to, which means they'll be against it. Since the Islamists are willing to kill lots of their own on the way to killing even more of the rest of us, stopping them requires winning hearts, but also creating conditions on the ground in which those hearts can be won. Since the Islamists will kill anyone who doesn't go with them, the task is to defend those people (that means waging war), while creating for and with them an alternative to the Islamist strategy that will clearly be better. If this isn't done right, the people who need to be protected will themselves become the enemy.
It's a complicated situation, but the General certainly has me convinced that his road is the least worst one to take. Will he convince his Commander in Chief?